Amy Gallo wrote an article for Harvard Business Review Press titled 4 Tactics that Backfire When Dealing with a Difficult Colleague (September 21, 2022).

« Avoiding these common tactics will prevent you from making things worse. »

« Suppressing your emotions… Well-meaning friends and coworkers may tell you to “just ignore it” or to “suck it up” and move on with your life… Psychologist Susan David [author of Emotional Agility] writes that “suppressing your emotions — deciding not to say something when you’re upset — can lead to bad results.” She explains that if you don’t express your feelings, they’re likely to show up in unexpected places.  Psychologists call this emotional leakage…  In other words, sucking it up doesn’t usually decrease your stress level. It raises it. »

« Retaliating. Another tempting response to mistreatment is to fight fire with fire…  Unfortunately, stooping to their level doesn’t generally work. You intensify the feeling of being on opposing sides rather than giving the dynamic a chance to change. And retaliation often makes you look bad. Or worse, it violates your values. »

« Shaming… Bob Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule, summed it up this way: “Calling people an asshole is one of the most reliable ways to turn someone into an asshole — or make them hate you.” That’s because feelings of shame rarely inspire us to behave better; more often, they make us lash out further. »

« I like the way that Brené Brown distinguishes between shame and guilt and explains their relative usefulness: I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful — it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed… I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive… I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous. »

« Hoping your colleague will leave… Sutton warns that sometimes “removing the bad apples” does little to change the underlying issue, especially if your colleague’s obnoxious behavior is validated by the organizational culture. Often other things need to change to prevent incivility, he says — things like the “incentive system, who’s promoted and rewarded, how meetings are run, and the pressure people are under to perform.” »


Amy Gallo is the author of  Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People) (Harvard Business Review Press 2022).

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